Arepas El Cacao review: Venezuelan food in Kissimmee (photos)

Today’s Venezuelan food joint Arepas El Cacao review is brought to you by Mr. B, with short commentary by yours truly. Tomorrow, for Traveling Through Food Monday, I’ll be talking more about the origin of arepas and cachapas. Additionally, I’ll give you some delicious recipes to try at home. This post though…it is just the humorous account of a gringo’s first encounter with Venezuelan food. Enjoy!

Arepas El Cacao, Co
3283 S John Young Pkwy
Kissimmee, FL 34746

Arepas El Cacao review: Venezuelan food in Kissimmee

Venezuelan food is a lot like the country: Full of amazing resources, but serious violence once you are deep inside. We walked toward Arepas El Cacao, a place with a giant cherry on the top of the building (these guys know what they are doing). There were only two side windows, both plastered with massive menus that covered them in their entirety. We stood confused at where the entrance was when, magically, a window opened and a boy of the ripe age of 9 was ready to take our order.

Maria led the way, as I assumed the language of origin of the people inside was Spanish. But even this edge did not help with the completion of our order. We were allowed to stuff 5 things into the cachapas (actually, the arepas Mr. B) or whatever and we decided on some meats. Additionally though, I decided to add some handmade cheese (queso de mano) because it confused me (I thought cheese came from cows?).

Arepas El Cacao review menu

Arepas El Cacao menu is plastered all over the windows – and prices upon request only

Yet, before we could make our fifth choice, the 9-year-old was off — back into the abyss of blackness that was the kitchen. We asked if they accepted cards, since they didn’t have a sign to say otherwise. And…surprise! Only cash accepted. Luckily, Maria and I dug out the amount of money needed, we were handed over our ¾ finished order, and we were on our way.

When we finally sat down and started eating, we had some major realizations: 1) We got ripped off. HARD ($14 for an arepa and a cachapa? Umm, no bueno) and 2) One looked like a pancake wrapping around italian cheese, while the other looked like a hard tac biscuit with some meat from the Walmart tubs in it.

Arepas El Cacao review, cachapa mixta

Cachapa mixta: The only good thing we tried from the Arepas El Cacao menu

When I started to eat the flapjack (umm, the cachapa, Mr B), it was a pleasant surprise. You can taste corn, meat, cheese, and with the weird mayo-ketchup mix it was top notch. The hard tac (aka the arepa) on the other hand was a tad harder to chew. It seemed to be crunchy in all the wrong ways. Meaning, it was a tad stale. However, the cheese that came from the 9-year-old-boy’s hands was great.

Arepas El Cacao review, arepa photo

Arepa stuffed with handmade cheese, chicken, and pulled pork

Overall, we are glad we gave Arepas El Cacao a try. I mean, I see it every time I drive down to see my woman, so it was nice to finally cross it off the list. Unfortunately, I have put it on the Never Go Again list as well. I felt bull coming out of my a** about 30 minutes after I ate there…no bueno!

TLTR: Flapjacks (cachapas mixtas) are nice, hard tacs (arepas) are not, and a couple Venezuelans ripped us off.

Arepas El Cacao review: The Latina pitches in

While Mr. B was pretty spot-on with his Arepas El Cacao review, I must admit that I would probably hit this joint again. If just to have another cachapa mixta. It was good. But…but…at $7 a pop, it is not a Venezuelan fast food place in Kissimmee you want to visit often. Specially when you are trying to pay off $40,000 worth of student loans in less than 2 years, as your annual salary is about that more or less…

All this said, though, I found out that there are two Arepas El Cacao joints: The one we visited in Kissimmee and a food truck in International Drive. I read many rave reviews about the latter, by the way. Maybe we should hit that one up next time we visit the theme parks in Orlando. Seems like their arepas are much better!

Kissimmee Arepas El Cacao review

Say no to an arepa (top); say yes to a cachapa mixta (bottom) at Arepas El Cacao. Ironic, si…

Got a different Arepas El Cacao review? Have you tried cachapas?

Hotel OK Puerto Rico: A mischievous, sexy escapade in the tropics (photo essay)

Want to live out a secret affair fantasy? Want to feel like you’re a shady Puerto Rican government official? Want to order fried food naked? We have the hot spot for you: Puerto Rico MOTELS. Specifically, this Travel Bucket List Wednesday we share our Hotel OK Puerto Rico review, compliments of (mainly) Mr. B.

Hotel OK Puerto Rico entrance

Bright football-arena-like entrance sign of Hotel OK Puerto Rico

Hotel OK Puerto Rico rooms

Hotel OK Puerto Rico “suites” lined up. Openings are individual garages

To those who are uninitiated to the seedy underbelly of Puerto Rico motels: In essence, they are places to have sex and have no one know you were there. When it comes to the Hotel OK Puerto Rico, there’s a big bright sign for an entrance, like one of a football arena. But then, as soon as you turn in, the “roads” become dark alleys of Sin City.

As you pull in, you park in one of the many open garages inside each “suite.” When you get out of your vehicle, you feel a hush tone over the entire area. Besides the odd buzz of whizzing golf carts and packs of wild dogs, all you hear is silence. A man drives up, I hand him my credit card (he looked like a real straight shooter, right Maria?)…and he was off. Then, we were left to our devices at the Hotel OK Puerto Rico suite.

Inside the Hotel OK Puerto Rico Suite

Hotel OK Puerto Rico, VIllas Del Rey

Inside one of the Jacuzzi Suites at the Hotel OK Puerto Rico (named “VIllas Del Rey” or The King’s Villas)

Up the stairs, behind the mystery door: A mirrored playroom filled with a Jacuzzi, a stripper pole, disco lights, disco ball, a bar, and strange chair are unveiled.  The latter seemed to be used for confusing sexual positions (a love machine, I’m told). Upon entrance, I was WAY out of my comfort zone, so all I had was a goofy smile on my face. The area seems to be cleaned just enough to not gross me out. However, once I stepped into the bathroom, it seemed like no one had been there at all! There were broken tiles, awkward flushing toilets, no A/C to the bathroom. What was left was an open window, with men joking with one another in Spanish right below it. Since I didn’t know what they were saying, I’ll add lib: “What up Carlos, you here to have sex too?” Carlos: “Hey Sebastian, yeah you know what a kawinkadink LOL.” Sebastian: “Man, can’t wait to tweet this #motelaffair LMAO.”

When I went back into the room, Maria was looking over the Hotel OK Puerto Rico menu (digitally shown on TV). Offerings included food, lube, condoms, dolls…but NO COMBO MEALS! I mean, if I order your fried combo platter, you might as well assume that I ain’t got a chick in here and throw the blow up for free…

The Romantic Hot Tub

Hotel OK Puerto Rico heart-shaped Jacuzzi

Bubbly inside the heart-shaped Jacuzzi

I turned the faucet on to start filling the Jacuzzi. As I waited for the red heart-shaped hot tub to fill up, I flipped the Hotel OK Puerto Rico menu channel onto “regular” TV programming. Then BAM: I’m b**ls deep in what looks like the most amateur porn I have ever seen. The women looked worn, the tracks in their arms fresh, and the camera seemed to be excited as it was constantly shaking. So after a short browse, I turned it off. By then, Maria had decided on what “sexy items” and alcohol we wanted, so we called room service.

Now onto what the Hotel OK Puerto Rico does right: There’s a hidden little wooden door, where room orders are placed. This was built so that no one can actually see each other when “transactions” take place. I could be naked, clothed and/or still in a comprising position–it does not matter. I felt this was genius and all hotels should have this method of room service:

The masked man handed me the food and my card (glad it made it back). At this point, we sat down in the heart-shaped Jacuzzi; jets on and bubbles flowing. I can’t lie: this has been on my travel bucket list since Dumb and Dumber came out. To have it finally checked off with alcohol and fried Puerto Rican food was definitely a highlight. I don’t even think Alzheimer’s will ever take that away.

Sexy Time Calling. And…

Hotel OK Puerto Rico ceiling mirror

Ceiling mirror over bed

After fueling up, we decided to use what the Hotel OK Puerto Rico was made for. So we ****** on *** ******* for about 10-15 minutes, then we ****** in ** ********* which I think are illegal in my home state of Texas if I’m honest. After are some cuddles, Maria and I fell asleep. Now, this is when it got weird…

I woke to someone serenading their mate with “I’m on a payphone” by whatever that band is named (you know, with the dude in the bank robbery music video?).  After the serenade finally stopped, I heard the yip of what I assumed was a woman…but she sounded more like a small dog. When Maria finally woke up and stated that “those cleaning ladies need to stop singing so loud,” I just laughed. Hard.

8 Hours of Fantasy

Around 6 AM, the honeymoon at the Hotel OK Puerto Rico was finally over–we were off to the hustle-and-bustle of Puerto Rican life. We snuck back into her parents’ house early and enjoyed a great breakfast feast from the madre. The great thing about this was the little mischievous smiles we shared for the rest of the day. It was our little secret: we snuck out to have a romantic evening together. It was ours only ours. We were able to wink and hold hands as if we were high school sweethearts that “got away with it.”

TLDR: Get a partner, go to a sexy Puerto Rico motel, and have fun.

Hotel OK Puerto Rico sign

Hotel OK Puerto Rico: No additional caption needed

Next: We step it up & visit a luxurious, cleaner sexy motel

Would you go to Hotel OK Puerto Rico for a sexy fantasy night?

San Juan Puerto Rico nightlife tips: A local weighs in (photos)

UPDATED: March 2016! Today I got some insider San Juan Puerto Rico nightlife tips for you. Needing only to be 18+ to enjoy most of the nightlife, I was able to sample a great deal of hotels, casinos, and clubs before I went to college in the USA. Additionally, I have been going back every year. So I wondered…why the heck haven’t I written a post about them yet?!

**I’m referring to the San Juan metro area, including Isla Verde, Guaynabo, Río Piedras

San Juan Puerto Rico nightlife tips

San Sebastian Festival, Old San Juan (Tif Pic, Flickr)

Party hotel lobbies and casinos

Let’s be honest here: Everything about Puerto Rico is a party. You can find not only a party hotel, but also party lobbies. That’s right: even the locals flock into upscale hotel lobbies during the weekends for excellent free entertainment. Latin bands play live until the wee hours of the night (approximately 4 AM), with an accompanying bar serving until then.

Within the same hotels, there are also lively casinos, some which are open 24 hours a day! In there, the party atmosphere continues with great free drinks, food, and gambling that never sleeps. Below, my San Juan Puerto Rico nightlife tips + list of my favorite party hotel lobbies and casinos:

Condado strip

Radisson Ambassador Plaza Hotel & Casino: Party at the Ambassador Club Lounge; gamble at the 24-hour casino with 482 slot machines.

1369 Ashford Ave., San Juan 00907

La Concha Resort: Laid-back, yet ultra elegant atmosphere. Rub shoulders with the chic locals. Party is at the lobby as well. Great Latin band at the Ocean Lounge on Wednesday nights, by the way.

1077 Ashford Avenue, San Juan 00907

Conrad San Juan Condado Plaza: Rated among the Top 25 Trendiest Hotels in the Caribbean by Tripadvisor readers, the lobby is where it’s at. Usually best on Fridays, when the entire Condado strip is hot to party.

999 Ashford Avenue, San Juan 00907

Marriott San Juan Resort & Stellaris Casino: An all-time favorite of mine. I have partied at this lobby and gambled at this casino on several occasions. The live Latin bands and even DJs at the lobby are always great. Best San Juan Puerto Rico nightlife tips for this location: It is an older crowd, best for those over 25 (or anyone trying to avoid the youngsters in their late teens/early 20s). Party starts to sizzle on Wednesdays and Thursdays, depending on the season.

Ashford Ave, San Juan 00907

Old San Juan

Hotel El Convento: The number one hotel in San Juan in terms of charm and service. Ironic, yes–it used to be a convent! Good parties at the lobby on Wednesdays.

100 Cristo St, Old San Juan, San Juan 00901

La Factoria: chic bar in Old San Juan, with a nice selection of wines and specialty cocktails together by so-called expert “mixologists.” A little hipster for some people’s liking, but popular place among upscale locals. If you don’t like it here though, there’s something for everyone all along Calle San Sebastian! Both bars and great food.

Calle San Sebastián 148, Old San Juan, San Juan 00901

Isla Verde area

El San Juan Hotel & Casino: Ultra lavish hotel, beautiful grounds, even non-guests can venture to the beach on its backyard whilst partying. Not only are there great parties in the lobby, but also at the nearby nightclub (Brava) and even burlesque lounge (The Rose Club – call 787.565.7700 for showtimes). **Fridays and Saturdays are best for partying at the lobby, by the way. Brava usually has the best DJs on Saturday nights.

6063 Isla Verde Ave, Carolina 00979

San Juan Puerto Rico nightlife tips, El San Juan Hotel

Grand chandelier at El San Juan Hotel & Casino’s lobby                         (Josh Friedman, Flickr)


Most of the hottest nightclubs in the island play Latin (salsa, merengue, bachata, and particularly reggaetón) and/or electronic music. The more upscale establishments will usually have two rooms or more– with at least 2 different DJs dedicated to these genres. Conversely, a select few offer metal, underground genres, and even poetry readings.

One of the best San Juan Puerto Rico nightlife tips I can give you, by the way? Even restaurants are turned into nightlife hotspots on my island 😀 Case in point:

Di Zucchero Restaurant & Lounge: Very busy on weekends, particularly after 12:30 AM. Better yet? Party goes on until 5 AM!

1210 Ashford Ave, Condado 00908

Brava (inside San Juan Hotel & Casino): Quite possibly, the classiest crowd in Puerto Rico. Also popular with tourists staying at the hotel. Most guests are in their 20s. Best parties usually take place on Saturday nights.

6063 Isla Verde Ave, Carolina 00979

The Rose Club (also inside El San Juan Hotel & Casino): As described on their website, this is “Puerto Rico’s First Cabaret Nightclub Venue featuring Miss Dakota’s Ran Can Can Burlesque Show.”

6063 Isla Verde Ave, Carolina 00979

Nuyorican Cafe: unbelievable salsa dancing is what you seek? This is your spot! Tucked away in historic Old San Juan, Nuyorican is popular with some of the best dancers in the island. Another personal favorite!

Calle San Francisco 312, Old San Juan 00901

La Respuesta: Self-described as “home to Puerto Rico’s underground artists,” you may come here to listen to local poetry or even metal bands. Great place to learn about the youth culture of the island. Many special events; official website updated frequently.

1600 Ave. Fernandez Juncos, esq. Calle Del Parque, Santurce

San Juan Puerto Rico nightlife tips, reggaeton

San Juan Puerto Rico nightlife tips: join the dirty reggaeton dancing (Generation Bass, Flickr)

Sport bars and other watering holes

Great cover bands and too-good-to-be-true drink specials characterize the sport pub and dive bar scene in San Juan Puerto Rico nightlife. Then it is a really big party when an important boxing fight takes place or if the Puerto Rico basketball team is playing in an important championship abroad. If you want to party with the locals like very few do, you must come down here on a boxing weekend! Below, a list of my favorites:

Shanna’s Pub: Irish bar, extremely popular with the locals. Goes crazy on boxing match nights and any given Friday or Saturday. Also very busy on Wednesdays, so be there before midnight.

On marginal of Martínez Nadal Expressway, corner of Esmeralda Avenue, Guaynabo

Stop and Go: this is where you pregame, no exceptions! Unbelievable, unheard of prices for the Condado strip. Some great examples? A bucket of 6-7 Coronita beers for $7; large Heineken bottle for $3. Essentially a semi-open dive bar, with a few slot machines, that also sells Puerto Rican fried foods. Popular with the locals, naturally.

1214 Ashford Avenue, Condado 00907

Small Bar: Crowded, tiny hot spot–yet relatively relaxed for Condado. Great artisan beers, great food, good prices. You can even drink outside 😉 love it! Open late as well, usually beyond 4 AM.

1106 Ave. Dr. Ashford (Across La Concha, between Mhan Chung & El Balcón), Condado 00907

San Juan Puerto Rico nightlife tips, La Placita

Bongos at La Placita, Santurce by Adrian Salgado, Flickr

La Placita: the hidden gem of my San Juan Puerto Rico nightlife tips for tourists. La Placita is not just an establishment, but an entire plaza full of popular bars. College kids attending the state university and even young professionals alike flock here on Wednesdays and weekends. Some of the cheapest drinks in town!

Parada 18, between Ponce de Leon and Baldorioty de Castro, San Juan

Got additional San Juan Puerto Rico nightlife tips? Share them below!

**Special thanks to Stella Rodgz for being the major contributor of this San Juan Puerto Rico nightlife tips post!

TBEX first timer: Am I doing it right? What is it even like?!

I’m going to be a TBEX first timer this year. And it’s very fitting that this travel conference almost lands on my travel blogging first-year anniversary (June 18th)! While I’m prepping according to the lessons learned as a NY Times travel show first timer, I can’t help but be nervous…! However, even if you have been to other big travel conferences, but are a TBEX first timer like me, let me tell you something right away:

TBEX is a completely different ballgame.

The focus of this travel conference is us, travel bloggers–not tourism organizations and PR professionals. Still, I can’t help but wonder: What will it be like? Am I even prepping correctly!? What should I bring, besides my business cards, motivation, and excitement!?

What I’m doing: It’s PREP time!

TBEX is in T -4 days. However, for the past two months or so, I’ve been requesting meetings and sending pitches to relevant attendees.

TBEX first timer, my profile

Loving that TBEX Presdo Match! Here

I might be a TBEX first timer, but this is my second travel conference. So, as I advised NY Times Travel Show first timers, I’m making sure I take a good look at the full sponsors’ and attendees’ list prior to arrival. While I’ve gotten too many “No” ‘s for meetings and every single pitch of mine has been turned down thus far, I’m not giving up!  I just got some leads for meeting *crossing fingers* Still, I must admit…

I’m losing a bit of motivation… 🙁

I’ve been wondering: What have I been doing wrong!? I was expecting a better turnout, better responses! Do you have any advice when it comes to pre-conference pitches!?

I do have a great service to offer: Translation and localization of travel websites. I’ve been a translator / translation manager for two years now, saving my company up to $10,000 and counting. Also, I am able to cover a press trip in two languages (English and Spanish), therefore greatly expanding the reach of whichever organization takes me on such a project. in fact, I also happen to be the marketing manager at my current company, directing campaigns and initiatives in those two languages.

Yet, my resume doesn’t seem to be impressing anybody.

I keep getting no’s no’s no’s. While I understand this is part of life, some pointers would be greatly appreciated! I’m getting a little frustrated… :/

Packing for high-altitude

While I lived in Ifrane, Morocco (Atlas Mountains) for a full semester, I don’t really have experience with high-altitude weather. Thus, I was surprised to see on the TBEX A Taste of Vail Resorts Welcome Party invitation that the temperature could drop to the 20s (F)!

Being from the Caribbean, I was just dazed and confused as to how summer temperatures could be this low 😛 but thanks to Kara Williams, now I have an idea of what to wear:

TBEX first timer, packing

Advice for packing for Keystone, TBEX

Layering. Duh. Sometimes I wonder about my traveler skills… LOL. But then again, packing is still a challenge for many of us girls 😉 I’m hoping to have my carry-on ready to go by Wednesday (even though I don’t fly out until Friday afternoon).

Selecting the appropriate sessions to attend

This is probably the most daunting task for any TBEX first timer: Selecting which sessions to attend. There are so many great speakers and topics–all which I would love to hear about. But a travel blog is a business after all, so I had to choose the sessions that would help my travel websites the most in the short term, as I just started a year ago. So far, this is what my schedule looks like:

TBEX first timer sessions

My scheduled sessions this year–might change before Friday!

Parties parties… and even more parties?!

Looking at the finalized TBEX schedule got me all excited–it won’t be all just work! I remember the NY Times Travel Show feeling like exhausting work the whole way through. While there were some fun performances in-between, there were no special events or parties planned for travel bloggers (except for the Expedia happy hour–now that was awesome!).

Now TBEX: Completely different story! Just take a look at this:

TBEX first timer, pre-conference events schedule

TBEX pre-conference events

TBEX first timer, welcome party invitation

TBEX 2012 welcome party: A Taste of Vail. Hope I make it from my flight!

TBEX first timer, Expedia Shindig

Expedia Shindig flyer — this will be my first time in

Fun fun! I’ll be attending the Taste of Vail welcome party & the Expedia Shindig

Unfortunately, I was unable to take enough time off from my full-time translation manager position, so I won’t be able to attend many pre-conference events. Another reason why I can’t wait to become a full-time Nomadic Translator! Btw, if you wish to help me on this endeavor by partnering with me (so I can translate and localize all your travel websites and magazines), just give me a shout! 😉

All in all, I’m pretty excited about TBEX and it has already surpassed my expectations since I reluctantly signed up early this year (thanks, Mr Tieso! ;))

You a TBEX first timer like me this year? How are you prepping?

Read more about the conference: My TBEX review

Travel without a plan experiment: my Curacao trip report

I can’t believe I never told you the details about my travel without a plan “experiment”! While I have shared most of my Curacao adventures, I have failed to explain, in detail, the outcome of my Curacao experiment. So! What better time than Travel Tuesday to share this with you!? Let’s hit it! 😀

travel without a plan, Curacao Nov 2011

what I love about travel: Locals like him

Travel without a plan: The Hypothesis

I’m going to be honest here: I thought it wasn’t going to be that great. Don’t get me wrong–I loved the adrenaline rushes I was feeling weeks before the trip as I knew I would go plan-less. I mean, I did it in Israel and let’s be honest: It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. No way I could have planned 3 weeks straight of hitchhiking and couchsurfing solo across historical sites and kibbutzes! However, I at least had a plan-as-you-go mentality: While I had no itinerary when I departed, that quickly morphed into a “I know what I’m doing 2 days from now” mentality. Yes: I had itineraries written down 2 days ahead of time during the last half of my trip. This, however, would not be the case in the Curacao experiment…at all.

And I was scared because of it!

Why, you may ask!? Because I thought I would miss out on a thing or two. And do I know how the “travel regret” hits me…hard! So I was challenging myself in a big way.

Travel without a plan: The Methodology

Just bought a RT ticket Miami-Curacao. That’s it. Granted, I sent some Couchsurfing requests. Yet, in the end, I said: “Screw this, let’s make this the real Travel Without A Plan experiment!” I was even going to hit Bonaire in the process, but wasn’t going to buy that plane ticket until after I got to the Curacao airport. Yah, NUTS!

travel without a plan, Curacao flight

Curacao sunset from above

Travel without a plan: The Experiment

I arrived to Curacao with only one colorful duffle bag and a purse. Once at the airport, I simply asked a clerk where to go to book a flight to bonaire for a few days. She said: “Don’t go there if traveling solo! You’re young and unless you are diving, Bonaire can be boring. Spend your whole vacation in Curacao instead. You’ll have fun, I promise!” And so this is how I stayed in Curacao for 5 days…

Then, it was the Operation Finding a Cab. Charged me $25 as no one else was going, but at least he spoke Spanish and we had a great conversation on the way. I commented that I had not booked a hotel and told him about my Curacao experiment. What did my cabby think? A0 Estas loca. B) Te voy a ayudar (I’ll help you out). And so after asking “for any cheap hostel or guesthouse by the center of town,” I arrived at Villa Colombia. $13/night for a bed, including full breakfast? Oh yah, it’s on!

travel without a plan, Villa Colombia, Curacao

My Curacao guesthouse: Villa Colombia, No 74 – 79!

Villa Colombia was just a 10-minute walk away from the center, called Punda. For 5 days, I lived in the middle of a true Curacaoan neighborhood. Which of course, made the walk out and back to the guesthouse wonderful. I took in the daily Caribbean life, had a Curacaoan mom (my host!) that spoke Spanish, and was taken care of like family. Mom even exchanged my dolllars for florines (Curacaoan currency) at the fair market rate. I doubt I could have planned this so well!

travel without a plan, my Curacaoan host

my Curacaoan mama and me!

My days consisted of walking around the center of town, taking photos, and getting food at local restaurants, which was easy as virtually everyone spoke Spanish in addition to Papiamento (Dutch Caribbean dialect) and Dutch; sometimes also English. I had some great conversations and understood that Curacaoans were pretty similar to us Puerto Ricans. After all, we are all from the Caribbean 🙂

me walking toward Curacao's center: Punda

action shot!

On my second day in Curacao, I befriended a Venezuelan guest called Sonia, and we would hit town together many times. Also, that same day, I met a couple of Latinos in the center of town, Yara and David, which were on their way to the beach. After Sonia told me to go alone because she wanted to do more shopping, I hit my first Curacaoan beach!

travel without a plan, Mambo beach Curacao

Mambo beach

Once at Mambo Beach, I really befriended the Latinos. I learned that Yara was actually a tourism exchange student, so she was living on the island. This meant that after the impromptu day at Mambo Beach, I got to see her awesome cottage in a completely different town and met more exchange students there!

travel without a plan, Curacaoan cottage 1

the exchange students’ Curacaoan cottage! So lovely

travel without a plan, Curacaoan cottage 2

The layout of the Curacaoan cottage was nice

travel without a plan, Curacaoan cottage 3

hammocks and…a KMART pool! XD haha I call those like that =P

That same night, I went out with all of them after eating some home-made Curacaoan fish and veggies. We danced the night away (live Latin band, YAY!) and sobered up by eating Curacaoan fast food afterward.

travel without a plan, Curacao clubbing

me with Dutch girl Sandra (center) and Latina-Dutch Yara (right) at the nightclub

My 3rd day was a day trip with Yara and David to Blue Bay with another Curacaoan friend of theirs. This was a beautiful resort and we had a blast, despite the cloudy weather!

travel without a plan, Blue Bay Resort, Curacao

part of the grounds of the Blue Bay Resort, Curacao. It was gorgeous!

travel without a plan, Blue Bay beach, Curacao

entrance of the main beach at Blue Bay resort

travel without a plan, Blue Bay, Curacao

Blue Bay beach view

What about my fourth day? On a tour, hopping some of the best beaches of Curacao and even a grotto all day! Oh, and did I mention it included an amazing lunch (I ate iguana in Curacao!) and free beer all day long?! Booked last-minute (the night before) and got a sweet 60% discount. Bargaining, of course. Ahh, gotta thank Egypt for the practice! 😀

travel without a plan, Porto Mari beach

Porto Mari beach

travel without a plan, eating iguana in Curacao


travel without a plan, Boka Kalki

Boka Kalki

Finally, Mr Mitch (@Mackinnontweets) arrived from his house build in Argentina and we spent the last leg of my trip together. Sharing travel stories while watching the ocean, eating amazing food at the more upscale restaurants in town, and even gambling at the local casinos was the perfect ending to my trip.

travel without a plan, Curacao harbor

watching ships leave harbor with Mitch before dinner

walking to our restaurant (it was on a high floor)

travel without a plan, Curacao restaurant

gorgeous view with dinner!

a little gamblin’ after dinner (Photo: Mitchell Mackinnon)

Oh wait! I almost forgot to tell you: the hitchhiking was the pinnacle of this trip!

We took the local bus to Cas Abou beach on our last day in Curacao. You see, we were told we would only have to walk a couple of meters from the bus stop to the beach…wrong! It was more like a couple of kilometers… Soooooo after about 10 mins of walking and no coast in sight, I encouraged Mitch to hitchhike. He agreed, and we flagged the next vehicle: a mom and daughter from the Netherlands, who spoke perfect English and were quite chatty and amusing. Just fabulous!

Curacao hitchhiking

300 meters? Not so much!

Cas Abou beach, Curacao

Cas Abou beach (Photo: Mitchell MacKinnon)

Travel without a plan: The Conclusion

One of my best trips to date, for sure! I proved my hypothesis wrong: I didn’t really miss anything, except for the diving. Which, in all honesty, iw as planning to do on a different trip anyway. So for not having a set plan (not even a hotel!), I paid close to nothing for a room, good several free meals, saved on exchange fees, and met some amazing people on the way! The best part? Living like a Curacaoan and seeing how they go about their daily life. I only took public transportation (except for 2-3 occasions) and stayed in a residential neighborhood. Just treat after treat! Traveling like a local surely is better than just being a tourist

Punda, the center of Curacao, at night

Cas Abou beach again

Artwork in Punda, Curacao

Curacaoan rum — oh yes

Do you have a great Travel without a Plan tale? Share it below!

How to poop in the Middle East and Africa: Travel tips

Hey guys! Learning how to POOP!? Oh, that’s right! It’s Cultural Tidbits Monday and today we are taking a little break from the “Traveling Through Food” series so I can show you a funny, albeit quite useful, post I published a bit ago on my Travel The Middle East website. Indeed, learning how to poop while traveling the Middle East or Africa (or any other third world country or place with squatters, really) is a skill that must be mastered and be on your high-priority list along with packing and other RTW-soon prep. And so, with no more preambles…

There is no more valuable lesson when traveling the Middle East or Africa than…knowing how to poop. That’s right folks: Pooping is indeed an art, one which must be mastered if you plan to travel throughout the Arab world and any other developing countries for that matter. So today I show you what I learned from living and traveling the Middle East for 16 months.

How to poop - Squatter

How to poop method squatter (Photo: Mintguy, Wiki Commons)

1. Practice squatting

While practicing may seem stupid to you, knowing how to squat is not enough in order to be able to actually know how to poop properly. Ask me, when I had to squat for long periods of time in the scorching Egyptian sun by a hole with only wooden walls, a door, and no roof. I would just squat there until actually, well, going, about 30 mins later (I wish not to remember sometimes). Thus I learned: You should practice how to poop while squatting at home, prior your trip. This way, if your “endurance” is not too good at first, at least you can “drop” safely on top of your toilet seat until, eventually, your body gets used to it. And trust me, it will learn how to poop right away once you squat with your pants down. It is basically muscle memory (really).

2. Spot your target and plan your strategy

Yes, you need strategy when it comes to knowing how to poop here. Start looking at some pictures of squatters (like the one above) and imagine placing yourself on it in a way that you are comfortable and able to poop properly inside the hole. If not, just practice on an actual squatter once at your destination–but when you don’t have to go. Not planning ahead will mean walking out with a prize of your, ermm, effort. This happened to me several times during desert trips until I finally learned to plan ahead and practice my strategy when I didn’t have to go so I could be ready for when I had to.

3. Be prepared

Always carry plenty of tissues and hand sanitizer with you. Why both? The tissue will be good for wiping, while the sanitizer will be the true cleaner. For instance, what if you make a mistake while squatting? I’m sure you’ll want to sanitize the victimized area afterward. Never underestimate squatting accidents–they can be pretty ugly. Once I lost my balance…and yes, I fell on it. All of it. Not only did I not have enough tissue to clean up, but I didn’t have any sanitizer whatsoever. Nonetheless, lesson learned (and the dirty way)

4. Always carry a bag

While some of your waste will decompose, your tissue probably won’t. We don’t want to pollute the environment–always carry a bag you can tie to put dirty, non-biological items in. How to Poop Etiquette 101, okay?

5. Practice digging

Sometimes, you find yourself in a situation where no squatter is nearby and you really need to go. We want to be as considerate as we can be, so knowing how to poop properly includes Etiquette 102: Practice digging a little hole in record time on your backyard. Recommended depth is 6-8 inches or 15-20 cm by the way. The more you practice at home, the faster you’ll be able to dig a hole once abroad and the least likely that you’ll poop yourself in the process. Some of you might think “well, I’ll just poop on the surface!” Really, really? Not nice…

Got more tips on how to poop abroad? Share on a comment below!

Swim with Manatees: How I did it! (photo essay)

Swim with manatees – Check! Last year, I had the privilege to cross off the bucket list my dream to swim with manatees. As I am well aware that many of you have yet to do this, today I decided to tell you how you can cross it off, too!

swim with manatees

Swim with manatees! They so cuteee

Where to swim with manatees?

Seems like Crystal River, Florida, USA is one of the few locations worldwide where you get the chance to swim with manatees easily. It is likely for you to find manatees in the Caribbean or any place where water temperatures do not go below 60 degrees F (15.5 C), as they cannot survive in waters colder than this. However, you are not guaranteed to be able to swim with manatees as close and personal as at Crystal River. I only live about 45 minutes to an hour away from this town, so call me lucky! Below I will talk about my experience and how I arranged to swim with manatees in FL. Then later, by the end of this post, I will tell you where else in the world you are able to mingle with these lovely, gentle mammals.

swim with manatees

ME! Swimming with a MANATEE! =D You may pat them gently, but not harass them

When to swim with manatees

Swim with manatees is possible from November to March, as ocean waters get a little too cold for the gentle mammals (yes, it does get a bit cold in Florida during the winter!). Why do they choose Kings Bay and the adjacent streams such as Crystal river, though? They are fed by warm springs, which average about 72 F or 22.2 C degrees all year long. Granted, these springs are attractions in themselves in Florida, with Caribbean-like, crystal-clear azure waters. Ahh, I don’t complain living in FL at the moment, no =)

swim with manatees

they kept surrounding me!

Swim with manatees: Independently and on a tour

What I did was drive to Crystal River, FL with my best guy friend Josh. We rented a boat for half day on a dive shop by River Retreat for only $80 plus gas (split between the 2 of us) and set off. Full day boat rental costs $100 plus gas, by the way.

Josh had been to Crystal River several times, so he knew where to ride the boat to. However, you can simply ask the dive shop or outfit to give you a map so you can ride the boat yourself to the destination, saving you the hassle of an overcrowded snorkeling tour in which you will most likely see more people than manatees *wink* however, if you don’t feel comfortable, you could still do the tour, which is priced reasonably (between $35 and $60 per person), which lasts anywhere between 3-4 hours. Some tour operators max out at 12-16 people per tour, but usually choose locales where other operators are, taking away from the experience (in my opinion anyway). So, I tell you, be brave and get there by rented boat instead!

swim with manatees

our chosen spot

Map in hand in case we got lost, we reached a stream of the river that was virtually empty. Josh thought that was the best spot to swim with manatees, as they swim away from the area where the tour operators bring in the tourists (told ya!). Once there, we dove in in, just to be greeted rather quickly by a couple of soft manatees, swimming so close to us! I think I cried underwater (if that’s possible). The euphoria and joy I felt as these beautiful, cute creatures danced by me is indescribable. =’)

swim with manatees


swim with manatees

Other people followed us later

Where to book

There are other places in FL where you can hire boats or book a tour in order to swim with manatees. However, I only have experience with the dive shop/boat rental by River Retreat, which was great, so any other outfit you choose to go to is at your own risk *wink* Don’t worry though, you know you can always go to the Tripadvisor FL forums or Crystal River travel pages in order to read reviews and feedback about the operators I list below. So good luck and have fun crossing this amazing experience off your bucket list!

River Ventures (406 NE 1st Avenue, Crystal River, FL 34429; 352-564-8687; tours daily at 6:15 and 9:15 AM; $45 per person. Must book at least 5 days in advance if using online booking system.

Florida Manatee Tours (2380 N. Suncoast Blvd., Crystal River, FL 34428; (352)795-7033; ask for special $35 Manatee tour, 3.5 hours long, must be there 30 mins prior departure. Check-in time for the tour is 7 AM sharp.

The American Pro Diving Center (821 Southeast Highway 19; 352-563-0041; opens at 7 a.m. for first tour of the day. Cost for a 3-4 hour tour, wet suit and snorkel gear included, is $52.50

Other locations to swim with manatees, worldwide:

If you know of any other locations, please let me know in a comment!

Sea Life Discovery Plus (Mayan Riviera, Mexico; – seems like the mammals are not in the wild, though, so not recommended if you practice responsible tourism.

swim with manatees

Swim with manatees – check! =D

Do you wish to swim with manatees? Or have you done so already?

How to dress in Egypt or any conservative country

Hello ladies and gentlemen! Through a photo essay, I will show you how to dress in Egypt (or any conservative country) and (almost) pass as a local.


Let me be clear: How to dress in Egypt doesn’t really matter–if you don’t care about the attention. Egypt is no Saudi Arabia, so it is not like police will stop you if you happen to be wearing a skirt and a tank top.

However, you will get a lot of attention from the men.

Then tourists complain about how “vicious” the cat calls are etc etc.

See, dressing a certain way doesn’t mean the tourist deserves that treatment, but being sensitive to the culture is simple respect from you, the tourist. Plus, if this respect for the culture translates into a smoother, more pleasant stay, why not do it?

Thus this guide on How to dress in Egypt by yours truly.

I lived there.

Because of my looks, I could even pass as an Egyptian in 99.9% of situations. While my looks and Arabic studies certainly helped, I have to say that my dress boosted my “success rate” significantly. And so, I’m trying to help you out! Hope you find this photo essay helpful and feel free to contact me if you have any additional questions or concerns!

Men? Simply follow this one rule of thumb:  Wearing a t-shirt (or long-sleeve) that isn’t too tight and pants will always be a safe bet. Just cover your shoulders and knees. Follow this simple “guideline” and you won’t have any problems whatsoever (or any risk of offending anyone at all).

Now the ladies

how to dress in Egypt

How to dress in Egypt?

Photo 1 verdict: WRONG! My friend on the left was dressing European. While in the beach towns of Sharm El Sheikh and perhaps Dahab this outfit would be ok, you would attract much more attention elsewhere in Egypt. So, if your stay is outside these beach towns, do not dress like lady on the left. What about lady on the right?

While the white long-sleeve under the green tank top is not only conservative, but an actual fashion statement in Egypt, the shorts ruin this outfit.

You should always thrive to cover at least your knees.

You could wear skirts, but wear leggings underneath in order to cover your knees. Same with shorts.

To be even safer? Cotton pants. An example:

how to dress in Egypt


In this picture, I am wearing the long-sleeve top underneath a sleeveless top and jeans, covering all bases.

Additionally, I’m even wearing my hair in a low ponytail with a hat.

This is even better, as hair down (sp us gals with long locks) also attract much attention from men, who think it is very sexy (and not showed enough in public by Egyptian women).

While this picture was taken during my trip to Israel, I used to dress like this all the time while living in Egypt.

how to dress in Egypt

How to dress in Egypt: Hair up in a bun, covered mostly by a hat. Just like local girls do!

how to dress in Egypt

Wearing a tank top? You could also cover up with a scarf

On the photo above, while I am wearing a tank top, I still cover my shoulders with a scarf. This is particularly useful if you are staying in a very Western resort and want to have a tank top, but then cover up for a quick walk in town. It is also great for the hot Egyptian summers.

On a different note, while my pants are very bright, I actually bought them in an Egyptian store. Bright colors might bring a bit of attention, but if you are covered up and your clothes aren’t tight, they shouldn’t be a problem.

how to dress in Egypt

How to dress in Egypt: Use a piece of cloth that doubles as head covering and scarf

To beat the heat, sometimes I would wear a scarf over my head if the top I was wearing covered my shoulders. Black probably was not a good idea (hehe) as it attracts heat, but it is better than uncovered head.

Also, if the shirt I happened to want to wear didn’t have sleeves, I would choose a longer piece of cloth so it could double as head covering/scarf.

Specially women with dark hair like mine: cover your heads if you are out in the heat on a long day of touring in the desert! I didn’t follow this advice my first day out at the Pyramids of Giza in August and I almost had to be taken to the hospital due to heat stroke (obviously, drinking water every couple of minutes is also essential in days like these).

how to dress in Egypt

How to dress in Egypt: Me wearing an Egyptian galabeya during Eid

how to dress in Egypt

Ami, Laura and me wearing full-length galabeyas in Morocco

Ready to look even more like an Egyptian? Then buy a galabeya.

Doesn’t have to be full-length, although you could try that too!

In one of the pictures from above, I am wearing a galabeya top and jeans that while not full length, still cover my knees. I had two galabeyas: One orange, one pink (both pictured). The long-length Moroccan one was borrowed 😉

Usually, I would wear them in special occasions (or when going to the hamam in Morocco), such as during an Eid or when invited to an Egyptian (or even Moroccan: Used them in Morocco too!) family’s home.

how to dress in Egypt

Me at Hussein Square, Khan el Khalili during Ramadan

During Eid, Muslims tend to wear bright colors in celebration, so what more fitting than wearing a bright-colored galabeya if you travel the Middle East during times such as Ramadan?

Want more examples and look ideas? Here are a few! And remember: All these looks are appropriate for travel to any Muslim or conservative country:

how to dress in Egypt

Still want to wear that summer dress? Just wear a pair of leggings! Picture: Agadir, Morocco)

how to dress in Egypt

Simple and “western” – but still appropriate (me in Marrakech, Morocco)

how to dress in Egypt

Hat, scarf, long-sleeve *and* skirt – the best look! (me in Fez, Morocco)

how to dress in Egypt

Wore it at the Vatican, wore it in Egypt & Morocco too!

how to dress in Egypt

Might be a little too tight, but OK in a classroom setting (me in Palestine)

Hope you find my tips on how to dress in Egypt (or any conservative country) helpful!

Got additional tips on how to dress in Egypt or conservative countries?